The Politics    Friday, March 20, 2015

Malcolm Fraser, 1930-2015

By Russell Marks

Malcolm Fraser, 1930-2015

Malcolm Fraser passed away this morning after a brief illness. He was 84. The two periods of his political life – the first leading up to and including his prime ministership, the second covering the three decades since he was finally defeated by Bob Hawke’s resurgent Labor Party – are seen very differently depending on one’s relationship to the new Liberal Party. From within the Liberal Party this side of John Howard, Fraser was a prime minister who squibbed his chance to introduce Thatcher-style neoliberal reforms, and then a traitor who increasingly aligned himself with the Greens. For most others, Fraser saw his beloved party move further and further away from any liberalism that informed its founding in 1945 by Robert Menzies. After railing increasingly against Howard’s brand of conservatism for much of the 2000s, he finally resigned from the Liberal Party after Tony Abbott’s ascent to the leadership in 2009 proved a bridge too far.

During this second period, Fraser and his old nemesis, Gough Whitlam, found themselves in increasing alignment – and friendship. That would have been difficult to imagine on 11 November 1975, when Fraser trampled over the conventions of Westminster in advance of his own career. Yet Fraser and Whitlam found themselves on the same side on the issues of racial discrimination during the 1980s, and then in 1991 they appeared publicly together to protest the impending sale of Fairfax media to foreign interests. When Whitlam died in November, Fraser expressed sincere sadness.

Fraser’s last published work was a firm defence of Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs and of individual liberty in the face of the Abbott government’s voracious attacks on both. That liberalism was always there – his government was perhaps more compassionate than any postwar Australian government toward refugees and asylum seekers – though when de-coupled from political ambition it informed a new political identity, a new space he occupied on a much-altered political spectrum. He spent his last years urging a more independent foreign policy and lending his significant voice to those most marginalised by the harsh new political culture, carried in via talkback radio and the echo chambers of the internet, that emerged between Pauline Hanson and the Tampa.

The Round-up

Malcolm Fraser, 1930–2015

Rolling coverage of tributes is provided at Guardian Australia, Fairfax and the ABC. The Guardian also carries a pictorial tribute. Judith Ireland recounts ten “moments and milestones” in Fraser’s life, and Fairfax also features a pictorial timeline.


NewsCorp reports: “Controversial data retention laws have passed federal parliament’s lower house, but only after the government agreed to a last-minute concession protecting journalists.”

Lenore Taylor and Daniel Hurst report at Guardian Australia: “The federal government agreed to a warrant being required for access to journalists’ metadata, rather than all citizens’ metadata, because journalists were ‘a special case’ and the line ‘had to be drawn somewhere’, the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said.”

Daniel Hurst’s analysis at Guardian Australia: “The Coalition-Labor deal has been done and the metadata legislation has passed the lower house. Here’s how the measure requiring a warrant in some cases will work.”

Lenore Taylor reports at Guardian Australia: “The government has been forced to agree to the appointment of a list of security-cleared lawyers to argue the public interest case before judges or the attorney general as part of any decision to allow a government agency access to journalists’ metadata.”

Domestic violence

Shalailah Medhora reports at Guardian Australia: “A Labor party-dominated Senate committee on domestic violence has called on the federal government to urgently reinstate funding cuts made to legal and homelessness services.” Access the Finance and Public Administration Committee’s Interim Report into Domestic Violence in Australia here.

Rob Hulls comments at The Conversation: “My team at RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice released a report yesterday that aims to broaden this conversation. Yes, we need to support those who are subjected to family violence – mostly women and children – and this must remain our priority. But we must also intervene at the source of the problem.” Access the Centre for Innovative Justice’s report, “Opportunities for Early Intervention: Bringing Perpetrators of Family Violence into View” here (pdf).

Stephanie Smail reports at ABC News: “Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley says she will raise concerns about legal service funding cuts in her electorate with Attorney-General George Brandis.”


Laura Tingle comments at the AFR (possible paywall): “We don’t seem to quite be able to take in the growing realisation that we actually are being governed by idiots and fools, or that this actually has real-world consequences.”

Mark Kenny and Lisa Cox report in Fairfax: “Tony Abbott's comparison of Labor leader Bill Shorten to one of the 20th century's most reviled genocidal killers, the Nazi propagandist and anti-Semite Joseph Goebbels, has provoked outrage and again sparked discussions over his judgment and aggressive style in politics.”

Mark Kenny’s analysis in Fairfax: “The expression on Liberal faces, once it had dawned on them what had just happened, was not so much anger as something worse. Disappointment. Probably with themselves.”

Malcolm Farr reports at “It was a warm reunion of political veterans, but many who attended also saw it as the occasion in which the master John Howard to give a subtle lecture to the apprentice Tony Abbott.”

Indigenous affairs

Michael Gordon reports in Fairfax: “Tony Abbott has agreed to convene a meeting with Labor leader Bill Shorten and the country’s Indigenous leaders aimed at defusing tensions and building momentum for constitutional recognition.”

Calla Wahlquist and Helen Davidson report at Guardian Australia: “The Senate has supported a motion calling for an inquiry into the rollout of funding under the Indigenous advancement strategy, which has been described as confusing, fractured and systemically racist.”

Larissa Behrendt comments at Guardian Australia: “The results of the government’s new approach to funding Indigenous issues is now becoming clear. If the news trickling out of Indigenous organisations last week was anything to go by, the results are disastrous.”

Anna Henderson reports at ABC News: “Businesses that employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff will be provided with financial sweeteners of up to $10,000 by the federal government.”

Calla Wahlquist and Helen Davidson report at Guardian Australia: “The Western Australian premier, Colin Barnett, addressed a group of 2,000 protesters who converged on parliament in Perth on Thursday to protest against the proposed closure of remote Aboriginal communities, telling them to ‘put yourselves in my shoes’.”

Amy McQuire reports at New Matilda: “Thousands of Aboriginal people and their non-Aboriginal supporters hit the pavement yesterday – from Canberra to South Hedland, from Adelaide to Lismore – demanding an end to the Barnett government’s plans to close up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.”

Jennifer Macey reports at ABC News: “Aboriginal groups have called on both sides of New South Wales politics to formally recognise cultural fishing rights before the state election, saying without these legal protections Indigenous Australians are going to jail unnecessarily.”

Budget 2015

Laura Tingle and Phillip Coorey report at AFR (possible paywall): “The federal budget’s forecast bottom line has gone backwards by at least $80 billion since the Coalition came to office, challenging Tony Abbott’s promise that a tough budget is not needed this year because the nation’s finances are under control.”

Barrie Cassidy comments at The Drum on Abbott’s “breathtaking shift in economic management”.

Waleed Aly comments in Fairfax: “‘This will be a budget to bore you witless,’ Tony Abbott seemed to be saying this week. It will be a festival of tedium. A shrine to the uninteresting. Ignore it. Please. This, of course, will not happen. No budget in living memory will be so anticipated because no budget has had such a politically self-destructive prequel.”

Mark Kenny comments in Fairfax: “The government is trapped between its exaggerated pre-election rhetoric, unmet promises, and what looks like gross political naivete.”

Greg Jericho’s analysis at Guardian Australia: “Rather than increase the supply of housing and keep rents down, negative gearing encourages people to buy speculatively in the housing market.”

Stephen Koukoulas comments at Guardian Australia: “One of the least reported but most striking features of the government’s intergenerational report was the revelation that the position of the budget is extremely favourable for the next decade.”

Industrial relations

ABC Fact Check: 11 facts about the changing face of the Australian workforce

James Massola reports in Fairfax: “The Business Council of Australia has set out a five-year program for reform of Australia's work place laws, arguing there is ‘no consistency or logic’ to how penalty rates are set and calling for a new definition of ordinary working hours that could see an end to the nine-to-five work day.”

Gareth Hutchens reports in Fairfax: “Australia’s mining companies are shedding jobs by the thousands, with 50,000 workers losing their jobs in the past 12 months.”

Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank

James Massola and John Garnaut report in Fairfax: “Cabinet’s National Security Committee has cleared the way for Australia to invest as much as $3 billion to join the China-led $US100 billion Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.”

John Garnaut’s analysis in Fairfax: “The significance of Australia signing on to the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has been largely buried by the ham-fisted public diplomacy of the Abbott government and Obama administration.”

Seeking refuge

Karl Mathiesen reports at Guardian Australia: “In covert interviews, refugees settled on Nauru under Australia’s asylum policy tell of fear, desperation and a profound sense of helplessness.”

Ben Doherty reports at Guardian Australia: “A riot brewing for most of the week inside Villawood detention centre has been resolved without police intervention, the immigration minister said.”


Eliza Borrello reports at ABC News: “Talks between the federal government and the opposition on the Renewable Energy Target have broken down again.”

Thom Mitchell reports at New Matilda: “With dozens killed in Vanuatu, many more missing and tens of thousands left homeless, the Climate Council has released a report today on climate change.”


Matthew Doran reports at ABC News: “Fines to social media companies of up to $17,000 for failing to remove offensive material on their sites have been described as a ‘legislative hammer’ by the new federal government internet watchdog.”

James Bennett reports at ABC News: “Tony Abbott has used a video message aimed at schoolchildren to speak against cyberbullying, labelling it ‘hurtful and wrong’.”

Social security

Matthew Taylor comments at The Drum: “If Scott Morrison is willing to grasp the nettle of pension reform, he would be better off looking at ways to move those with greater means off the payment altogether – that's where the real savings are.”

Josie Taylor reports at ABC News: “Centrelink payments made up almost half of white goods leasing market leader Radio Rentals' revenue last year.”

Citizenship rights

Gabrielle Appleby and Sangeetha Pillai at The Conversation: “The constitutional status, rights and obligations of Australian citizens are by no means clear. Australia’s Constitution is completely silent on the question of a national citizenship. Globally, this is quite unusual.”

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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